PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2021
Lack of capacity in the healthcare system and insufficient information about vaccination programmes limited people’s access to adequate healthcare. Gender-based violence remained pervasive, including in the context of a growing number of violent attacks against women following accusations of sorcery. Development and environmental destruction negatively impacted the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples. Continued intercommunal violence killed dozens of people. Incidents of arbitrary arrests and police brutality occurred.
The government and Bougainville leaders reached an agreement on the timetable to finalize the terms of secession of Bougainville from Papua New Guinea following the 2019 independence referendum. Under the agreement, Bougainville will assume independent sovereign powers by 2027.
Right to health
In October, following a renewed surge in Covid-19 infections, hospitals in at least three provinces reported shortages of medical supplies and healthcare workers.
Less than 3% of the population were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of the year. Authorities failed to effectively combat widespread vaccine hesitancy, or to provide accurate and timely information about the virus and the vaccine programme through languages and formats that were accessible to all segments of the population.
Healthcare workers were attacked by members of the public and also remained at high risk of contracting Covid-19. In October in the city of Lae, health workers who were administering Covid-19 and polio vaccines had rocks thrown at them.1
The police failed to adequately protect women from violence in the home and in the community. Violent attacks against women accused of sorcery were reported throughout the year. In one case in March, a woman and her 19-year-old daughter were physically assaulted and thrown off a bridge by community members in Goroka after being accused of sorcery following the death of the woman’s husband from Covid-19. Local human rights organizations reported that sorcery-related violence and domestic violence increased in the context of the pandemic.
A Special Parliamentary Committee on Gender-based Violence established in 2020 commenced hearings in May, with further hearings postponed until 2022.
In June, male students at the University of Papua New Guinea disrupted a protest by female students and staff against allegations of widespread sexual harassment at the university. Journalists covering the event were also attacked, but no serious injuries were reported.
Indigenous peoples’ rights
In January, Indigenous people in New Ireland province staged a sit-in protest after the government failed to pay agreed compensation for the development of Kavieng Airport on their lands.
In July, the Indigenous people known as “shark callers”, also from New Ireland province, held a cultural festival to protest against the impacts of deep-sea mining for minerals and metals on their livelihoods and culture. The government declined to join the increasing number of states, NGOs and civil society groups calling for a ban on deep-sea mining.
Right to life
Intercommunal violence continued with 38 people killed in two separate incidents in Hela and Eastern Highlands provinces in February and April respectively. The lack of an effective and adequately resourced police service contributed to challenges in addressing such violence and other law and order concerns in remote areas.
On 31 July, the Supreme Court revoked orders issued by the National Court in 2017 that had temporarily stayed executions, pending the establishment of clemency procedures under the Constitution.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
In April, a lawyer, Laken Lepatu Agilio, was assaulted and arrested by police after filing a corruption complaint against the governor of Enga province. The corruption allegations related to a compensation scheme by the Canadian-owned Porgera gold mine, for human rights violations including forced evictions, rape and other sexual violence by police and private security personnel at the mine. A police officer was subsequently disciplined for the lawyer’s arbitrary arrest.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
The Papua New Guinea and Australian governments ended the offshore processing agreement between the two countries in October. However, it was unclear what protections or resettlement options would be available to the 88 refugees and 36 asylum seekers remaining in Papua New Guinea at year end.